Coaching Case Study By Tatiana Mitroi, Personal Coach, SWITZERLAND
Dealing With Pressure and Anxiety
Miranda contacted me because she heard from her friends who had coaching that they had an “amazing coaching experience” in just one session. She didn’t know too much about coaching or how coaching can help her but she heard from her friends that coaching helped them. Her friends didn’t share much about their coaching experience other than it was helpful for them. When they heard her talk about the different challenges she encountered they advised her to try coaching.
Miranda came with the expectation of experiencing coaching and doing only one coaching session. Her friends who had coached ignited her curiosity and she thought it might be worth giving it a try.
Miranda has been a very successful person, managing to achieve her objectives effectively in a highly demanding environment that focused on excellence. She dealt with a lot of pressure in the past. She was able to deal with the pressure because of the different support structures she had and thanks to other people that guided her. This enabled her to have the clarity she needed, in the short term, to know what she needed to do next and how to do it. She performed at her best and enjoyed the most what she did when she had clarity, and certainty about something and when she felt in alignment with others, meeting their expectations and being at parity with them.
Pressure and Anxiety Problem
Miranda came very enthusiastically, curious, and with an open mind to coaching. She didn’t necessarily look for a medium-long-term development opportunity. She was rather looking for something that could help her right away in the specific situation she was dealing with. She felt she was at a crossroads and was unsure about what she wanted to do next, in her future career. She felt scared and stuck. She thought she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She had several options in mind and felt a lot of anxiety. Different people had different opinions about what she should do next. It seemed to her that her friends were very clear and confident about their next step. She felt overwhelmed as she compared herself to her friends and other people’s opinions. The more she was paying attention to others and comparing herself to them, the less she paid attention to herself and her inner wisdom. She thought that she should know, just like her friends know. Yet, she keeps looking everywhere except inside herself. Furthermore, her father was putting a lot of pressure on her, telling her what she should do, giving her a lot of advice, and having various expectations from her. In addition, she felt that her team was also adding a lot of pressure by trying to impose their views, demands, and an increased number of meetings and requirements. She felt unable to create boundaries with them and kept being concerned about her career endeavors.
In short, Miranda felt a lot of pressure, felt unsure about what to do, and experienced anxiety.
Coaching Approach to Pressure and Anxiety
As we explored what Miranda wanted to get out of the coaching session, Miranda concluded that she wanted to have clarity about what she needed to do in that situation. Clarity was what she needed to be able to move forward. It was important for her to move forward because the cost she was paying, anxiety, and pressure became unbearable for her performance and well-being and made her stuck. The success measures for achieving the clarity she was aiming for were:
- Releasing pressure. At the beginning of the session, her pressure level was at 8, on a scale of 1 (very low) to 10 (very high). She mentioned that anything around 5-6 is good enough for her as a target for the session.
- Identify at least one action she can do to move forward rather than being stuck in no action
When I asked her what do we need to address to achieve her desired outcome, she mentioned the pressure she was feeling. This pressure led to a lot of confusion and uncertainty for her. As she felt pressure from everyone and everywhere and was alone in making decisions, it was difficult to address this topic, in a short amount of time, with questions at a mental level.
Hence, I asked Miranda if she wanted to do a visualization exercise with her emotions, by tapping into the wisdom of her body and emotions. I explained to her that emotions are the language our body uses to communicate its messages to us. I also mentioned that this exercise could serve as an effective emotional regulations practice as well.
Given Miranda’s situation and context, I chose to do a visualization exercise that addressed Miranda’s pressure. The intention was to guide her into the emotional regulation process so that she can address her pressure and tap into the wisdom and the message carried by her pressure. The visualization exercise I did for emotional regulation was based on the RAIN emotions’ regulation process.
The “RAIN” emotions regulation process that I used consisted of the following:
R – Recognize what you feel by naming the emotion experienced
In this step, I supported Miranda to name what she was feeling concerning the situation experienced. She chose pressure and anxiety. Then, I invited her to identify where in her body she felt the pressure and anxiety. She identified the chest and the neck area.
A – Accept and allow yourself to feel what you feel
At this time I invited Miranda to say to herself any words and phrases that could show acceptance of what she felt at that moment. This step was very important to tap into the wisdom and messages carried by the emotions. It was not easy for Miranda to accept what she felt because she was afraid that the feeling would overwhelm her even more. I normalized her concern, considering that it was something new for her and uncomfortable to feel. I gave her enough space to feel her feelings and to find the words that she felt comfortable with to convey acceptance of the pressure and anxiety felt. I suggested she add “right now” at the end of the acceptance words she used. She mentioned it was helpful to add “right now” at the end of the acceptance sentence she used as it made it easier for her to accept feeling what she felt.
I – Investigate by being curious about your emotions.
After connecting with the emotions, feeling them, and accepting them to be present in that moment, we continued with visualization. I guided Miranda through visualization. I asked her what color and image came to mind concerning the pressure and anxiety felt. She mentioned that the image of her dad came to mind in a very powerful and dominant, yet caring way. She saw herself as small and her dad telling her what to do because he wanted to protect her. Then, I asked her what message this image reveals for her concerning the situation she is dealing with. She realized that she behaved like a small child and that the majority of her pressure and anxiety came from the fact that she saw her dad as very concerned about her. She realized that she didn’t dare to tell her dad what she was going through and she felt overwhelmed by her dad’s worries that were displayed in the form of instructions and continuous advice. She understood that all these made her feel stuck, pressured, and anxious. I invited Miranda to sit with that image and understanding for a moment, as that was an important awareness for her. That realization brought her clarity about the next steps and a release of the pressure and tension felt.
N – Nurture, bring compassion towards yourself
After letting the client stay for a few moments connected with her image and realization, I invited Miranda to say and do anything that could be a sign of compassion towards herself, her emotions, and the parts of her body where she felt pressure and anxiety. Miranda chose to hug herself and to say compassionate words toward her.
At this point I noticed the client’s voice, face and posture changed. Miranda said that she felt as if she regained her power, she felt clear about what made her feel so much pressure and anxiety.
I then asked her what she wanted to do with that awareness and clarity. She answered immediately that she would talk to her dad. Miranda realized she needed to share with her dad what she was going through and committed to doing so. She also said she would ask her dad to stop giving her all that advice and instructions because she didn’t need it at that moment and had a negative influence on her.
Pressure and Anxiety Outcomes
Miranda felt released from the pressure and anxiety she experienced. She mentioned that the pressure level dropped to 3-4, which was even better than what she expected. She was also able to identify one action that she could do to move forward. She committed to talk to her dad, openly and honestly, about what she was experiencing and what she needed. Furthermore, Miranda realized that it’s ok to not know yet what she wanted to do next and that in reality there is no urgency to figure that out, in a very precise way, immediately. She concluded that she didn’t need to pressure herself because she still had time to figure out her next career move. She also realized that she needed to be less demanding with herself, that it was time for her to give less importance to what other people said and expected from her, and that she had other priorities to focus on at that time.
Dealing With Pressure and Anxiety Is a Vital Skill to Develop
An important learning for me is that it is important to explore the client’s emotions when the client is open to doing so. No emotion is random and carries important messages and wisdom when accepted, felt, and investigated with curiosity and openness. I also learned that to be able to support my clients to do so, it is important to regulate my own emotions at the same time. While I was guiding Miranda through the coaching process, I also felt some of her pressure and emotions. Hence, I worked on myself at the same time, accepting, feeling, and regulating my own emotions as well. This enabled me to be present and available for Miranda.
I find this approach can be beneficial in circumstances when a lot of attention is paid to the outside environment and less to one’s emotions and inner wisdom. Yet, the process that I used can work as long as the client is open to such an approach, being at ease to open up to their emotions, feel them, and visualize. It also requires being at least open to connecting with the body (since the emotions are felt in the body). For some clients, this can be overwhelming or they may experience numbness, due to disconnection from their bodies. Hence, this approach may not always be appropriate.
With more time I would explore more:
- Who she needed to be in that situation (since the “small child” position didn’t suit her anymore) and what resources and support structures she needed in that regard
- What exactly does she want to share with her dad, potential obstacles she could encounter
- What she wanted to do concerning her career endeavors, despite the fact she realized they were not a priority at that moment, was something important for her
- What she could say and/or do when she feels overwhelmed by the advice and opinions coming from other people
- What support structures does she need to reach clarity when she feels overwhelmed, pressured, anxiety (since clarity seemed to be so important for her to move forward and since she relied on others to give her precise instructions and guidance in the past)
Note: I changed the names and some specific, personal, elements to protect the client’s identity and confidentiality.